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What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that distorts how people think and hurts their ability to function in the world. People with schizophrenia have problems interpreting what is real, which affects how they think, managing emotions, and interacting with other people. Every time a person with schizophrenia has an acute episode, their ability to process information and solve problems decreases.

Schizophrenia affects about one percent of the world’s population and has been described as an illness for hundreds of years. It tends to start in people when they are in their late teens and early 20s; it's rare for an older person to develop schizophrenia. More men are diagnosed with schizophrenia than women and often show symptoms earlier in life, as well.

Schizophrenia in Children

It’s rare but some children will show signs of schizophrenia in early childhood. Children who are diagnosed with schizophrenia are typically severely ill and have problems functioning throughout their entire life.

Why Choose Hunstman Mental Health Institute (HMHI)?

With schizophrenia, early identification and treatment are critical. The longer someone is ill and untreated, the more severe their illness may become. At HMHI, we understand how to identify, diagnose, and treat people dealing with their first schizophrenic episode. Our clinicians and researchers use cutting-edge research to coordinate clinical care for symptom management and treatment. 

Schizophrenia Symptoms

If you have schizophrenia, you may experience:

  • delusions,
  • hallucinations,
  • disorganized speech,
  • disorganized behavior or state of unresponsiveness, and
  • lack of motivation or interest in activities (negative symptoms).

You need to have two or more of these symptoms for at least six months to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. People who develop schizophrenia earlier or have a history of drug use tend to have more severe symptoms.

Early Signs of Schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia will often experience early warning signs before a full-blown episode occurs. This “prodrome” phase often happens during the teenage years and can last for months or years. Symptoms during the prodrome phase include:

  • general paranoia,
  • withdrawing from others,
  • poor school performance,
  • depression, and
  • suicidal thinking.

The prodrome phase is often missed and not diagnosed since these symptoms look like typical things that teenagers may experience.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

The causes of schizophrenia are not known, but it is believed to be due to a mix of genetic and environmental risk factors.  

Is Schizophrenia Genetic?

Schizophrenia does run in families sometimes. This means that genes are involved in developing the illness. Many genes have been linked to schizophrenia, however, no single gene has been found to be directly responsible for the disease. One theory is that genes alone don’t cause schizophrenia. A person must also experience negative life events (i.e., environmental stressors) to develop schizophrenia.

What Can Trigger Schizophrenia?

Environmental stressors can include:

  • drug use (especially marijuana),
  • childhood adversity (e.g., abuse, bullying, neglect),
  • pregnancy-related events (e.g., illness during pregnancy, complications during birth, low birth weight),
  • living in an urban environment, and
  • immigration (from one country to another).

Find a Mental Health Specialist

Schizophrenia Diagnosis

There are no lab tests for schizophrenia. Our health care providers diagnose schizophrenia by gathering information about your personal, medical, and family history. Questions we may ask include:

  • Are there symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, or other signs that indicate the person is not thinking or behaving like they usually do?
  • Were there early warning signs (i.e., a prodrome phase)?
  • Was there an acute episode that happened at the right age?
  • Is there someone in the family that has schizophrenia?

When someone has been ill for a long time, it’s easier to see the patterns of schizophrenia. It’s harder to diagnose schizophrenia when someone is having their first episode.

Schizophrenia Treatment

At HMHI, we tailor treatment plans for each patient's individual needs. We also include the patient's family in the treatment and therapy process. If a patient needs additional care, we will refer them to other trusted mental health professionals in the community.

Like other mental illnesses, treatments for schizophrenia include medication and therapy. We typically use medication to treat people experiencing delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized behaviors associated with schizophrenia. 

We offer:

  • Individualized medication plans — We typically recommend medication for people who are experiencing their first schizophrenic episode or symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized behaviors associated with schizophrenia. 
    • Long-acting injection medicine — We offer the option of administering injection therapy once a month if it's appropriate and if patients are interested. These medications tend to be more effective for managing symptoms and helps patients adhere to their medication plan better.
    • Clozapine — This is not used as a first-line medication for schizophrenia since it requires weekly blood monitoring. However, it has been shown to be effective in people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia or people who have not responded to other medications. 
  • Therapy — We use behavioral therapy and inpatient group therapy for negative symptoms (lack of motivation or interest in activities) of schizophrenia, which usually don't respond well to medication. Outpatient therapy often focuses on cognitive-behavioral strategies to help decrease psychotic symptoms. We also offer psychoeducation and therapy sessions for family members and caregivers. 
  • Addiction Recovery Services — It's common for people with schizophrenia to also struggle with addiction and our recovery clinic serves those who have “dual diagnoses”. 

Outpatient Clinic Locations for Therapy & Medication Management

Specialty Programs

Adult Programs

HMHI has a coordinated inpatient/outpatient system of clinics that provide therapy and medication management for adults with schizophrenia.

Latina woman smiling outside with friend

Children and Teen Programs

For children and teens with schizophrenia, HMHI offers a diverse range of programs and treatments.

Parents and their young son in group therapy

Is Schizophrenia Curable?

There is no cure for schizophrenia but it can be treated in a way that can help you function better in your job and your relationships. HMHI will help you find the right resources and mental health care access you need to manage your illness.

How to Help a Loved One

People with schizophrenia may not think they are ill and may not stay on their medication, which can make it more difficult to care for them. The important thing to remember is that HMHI is here to help you care for your loved one.

If your loved one is in a crisis situation, the Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (MCOT) are available to assist you. If your loved one has had schizophrenia for several years or has difficulty taking their medication, long-acting injectable medication can be a game-changer.

Resources for Families & Caregivers

Mental Health Crisis Resources

We are here for you when you need us the most. Our team of professionals are trained in:

  • mental health crisis management,
  • suicide prevention, and
  • emotional wellness.

HMHI provides the following specialty programs and resources for you and your loved ones to prevent mental health crises and provide emotional support when needed.